June 13, 2009
Birney, in response to your column in Friday''s Dispatch, I did what you suggested. I drove through Burns Bottom Friday night. It was about 10:30 p.m., long after the early evening storms blew through. I got out and walked in the bucolic, rain-cooled night air.
Moore''s Creek gurgled nearby, providing a soothing backdrop to the quiet night. A few birds chirped in the trees, and a couple of cats scurried about.
I had the empty streets to myself, just as I have on many other walks and bike rides through the area.
To hear you tell it, the neighborhood, the adjacent Farmers'' Market of which you have been a big promoter, and the nearby Trotter Convention Center, with its parking lot filled on many weekend nights, must be the scene of constant carjackings, muggings and break-ins.
But I''ve checked the crime reports for the last two years. The numbers hardly show up on the radar compared to the numerous burglaries, two shootings and two street assaults within a stone''s throw of your Southside home.
I''d feel more comfortable leaving an 8-year-old there, surrounded by dozens of other soccer players and parents and three blocks from downtown, the Welcome Center and convention complex, than I would two miles from anywhere at the end of a dark road, a road that is more prone to the kind of flooding you say is such a problem at Burns Bottom.
As I stood in what I think is the middle of the 71 acres, I was almost ashamed that you, the progressive thinker, would resort to scare tactics to support your anti-Burns Bottom obsession.
I was shocked that some rundown homes - they still are someone''s home, including several children - and the pimped out cars that sometimes park at those houses would prompt you to subtly play the race card to try to win converts.
The right idea
No, as I stood there, I was even more convinced Burns Bottom is the right idea, not the bad one you''ve so strongly stated. I''m not surprised Harry Sanders, who you portray as a one-man Satan, and 12 - of 14 - other city and county officials think so too.
The truth is, Burns Bottom wasn''t Harry''s idea, he''s just adopted it and along with a few others, tried to jump-start the years-long stalemate over bringing our entire parks system into the 21st century.
Even the members of the charrette, which you suggest is a reason to delay proceeding with the Burns Bottom site, liked the soccer complex idea following their initial drive-through of the city. The charrette is a building block for community participation and involvement, not the cure-all you promise.
I''m not sure where you play soccer, but I don''t see it as chain link fences and ugly metal light poles. You make it sound like the kids will be playing on concrete. Most soccer fields aren''t fenced and light poles don''t have to be ugly or even bright.
Underground utilities, playgrounds, a pedestrian tunnel to the nearby Riverwalk, greenspace and natural wetlands, ponds and wooded areas would be an asset; remember, the actual soccer complex will use only 34 of the 71 acres.
Instead of the barren urban blight you''ve depicted, I see hundreds of families becoming an integral part of a vibrant, diverse downtown landscape.
If you want to make a difference and promote real long-ranging planning, use the power of your talented pen to guide us toward those goals.
Encourage the idea - several city and county officials already are promoting it - of buying both the Burns Bottom property and the 156-acre Corps of Engineers site you advocate for the soccer complex.
Purchase properties on Third
If you are so worried about the homes along the east side of Third Street North, then support purchasing those properties and others on the south side of Second Avenue North to act as a buffer and further revitalize the area.
When tough questions are asked about paying for such work, explain the value of investing now in the community''s future and the returns those investments will pay.
Promote the idea of bike lanes on College Street, Second Avenue North and Main Street to link the Riverwalk and downtown to Mississippi University for Women, Propst Park and Luxapalila Creek.
And finally, urge the city and county to divide up the responsibilities. Let the county handle parks and recreation financially and the city focus on expanding the Trotter Convention Center, its best economic development asset.
The two complexes together would be a crown jewel that few, if any, cities this size anywhere could boast.
Jay Jordan says, and you agree, he''s never seen soccer fields attract real estate development. That narrow view ignores the broad proposal that goes well beyond soccer fields.
Since you mentioned it, Central and Riverside parks have played a major role in real estate development in New York, which explains why some of the most expensive properties in Manhattan are located on their borders.
Parks are an integral part of economic development in communities across this country. Unfortunately, we''ve never approached it with an integrated, strategic plan that mixes one with the other. I''ll show him - and you - a perfect example in Hendersonville, Tenn.
While the soccer complex and Trotter expansion are under way, we, as a community, can begin preparing for the next 20 years. Plans for the Corps property should include a recreation center, activities and facilities tied to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, maybe tennis courts, a bike facility, picnic areas and a music pavilion.
Not a new idea
Extending the Riverwalk to the marina is not a new idea. Neither is refurbishing the old bridge at the head of the Riverwalk and transforming property on the Island into some kind of retail center. Both will be done, as money becomes available.
Instead of standing on the sidelines or being scared off by the constant bickering, maybe some wealthy benefactor who cares about the long-term good of the community will help out with a large financial gift to get things started. For precedent, we have to look no farther than Fulton, Miss., where a New York couple with roots in that city recently donated $1.7 million to help improve downtown park areas because they plan to return there to live.
Our long-range vision can''t be limited to the Riverwalk. Improvements to Propst and neighborhood parks must be part of the mix.
CLRA Director Roger Short envisions a rafting and canoeing center on the Lux, based at Propst Park. A bike trail from Highway 12 to Lux Park along the banks of the creek should be part of the plan. Public-private partnerships, similar to the way the Columbus-Lowndes Airport is managed, should be pursued to bring some of those ideas to fruition more quickly.
For too long, this community has been stuck in myopic squabbles such as the one you are promoting over Burns Bottom. We''ve isolated ourselves into factions divided by fear, scare tactics and race, attitudes you''ve frequently condemned but now are trying to use to your advantage.
It''s time to get beyond that.
For the first time in years, the community is understanding the need for major quality-of-life investments. We must take advantage of that momentum now.
Steve Rogers is assignments editor for WCBI TV. His e-mail address is email@example.com; other Rogers'' columns can be found at www.wcbi.com.